Another Two Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Games

Well, although I’ve talked about the subject of “books vs. games” before, I thought that I’d take a slight break from this month’s horror genre theme to talk about it again.

This is mostly because, due to the usual worries that I was “less of a gamer than I used to be“, I ended up replaying the earlier parts of “Resident Evil 3” on a higher difficulty setting. It was a lot of fun.

But, saying all of this, there’s still a lot to be said for books. After all, I’ve spent quite a few months reading lots of them. So, here are two more reasons why books are better than games.

1) Saving: Yes, many classic computer games (eg: “Doom II”, “Blood” , “Deus Ex“, the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” etc..) don’t have this problem. However, one of the problems with many modern and older games is that they don’t always give the player the opportunity to save at any time and pick up from where they left off.

Whether it is the dreaded checkpoint saving or, like in the first three “Resident Evil” games, actually limiting the number of times players can save, games can demand that you play them for longer unless you want to lose your progress. Regardless of the reasons given by game designers for this sort of thing, it is more than a little bit annoying/off-putting for a game to tell you “you’d better keep playing now, or else!” when you really want to get on and do other things.

Books, on the other hand, have none of these problems. You simply use a bookmark and put the book down. You can use pretty much anything as a bookmark You can even use more than one bookmark if you want to mark multiple parts of the novel (unlike some games that only have one save slot).

If you don’t have a bookmark, then – if you own the book – you can just dog-ear the page. And, yes, I know that dog-earing is a controversial topic, but if it’s your book and you don’t have a bookmark, what else are you going to do?

Even so, all books allow you to “save” your progress at any time. Unlike many games.

2) History: A few days before I wrote this article, I was spending a few minutes on Youtube when I happened to notice a retro gaming video about a cool-looking videogame I’d read about in a magazine many years ago but couldn’t remember the name of (D2“, if anyone is curious). Needless to say, I was amazed. I wanted to play it.

The only problem was that I don’t own a Sega Dreamcast. To directly experience this part of gaming history, I’d have to track down and buy a piece of out-of-production hardware before I even got the game. And, even then, a Dreamcast would only allow me to play a fraction of the interesting old games out there.

I mean, I’ve got a few old game consoles lying around (eg: a SNES, a N64 [somewhere], a GBA, a GBC [somewhere], two original Game Boys, a PsOne and a sadly no longer functional PS2). Yet, even with these, there are many older games I can’t play because I don’t have the right hardware. Because, rather than making games available to all, classic games were often locked to just one or two platforms.

It was part of the business model. After all, if you grew up in the 1990s and liked console gaming, you were often either on the side of Nintendo or Sega. Each system had it’s own parallel culture of “exclusive” games. These days, even PC games can often be exclusive to various DRM-filled digital shops/launcher programs. And don’t even get me started on the sorry state of game preservation these days…

On the other hand, the next horror novel I plan to review is an early 1990s reprint of a novel from 1974 (“The Rats” by James Herbert). I can read it just as easily as a modern horror novel. The physical book still “works” just as well as a modern book does. I don’t need anything extra to read it. It is a book like any other.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

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Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article and, since I’ve returned to making more imaginative art (on a semi-regular basis, at least), I thought that I’d look at a few things that old survival horror videogames can teach artists. Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this topic before, it’s always worth returning to.

If you’ve never heard of survival horror videogames before, they were a genre of horror videogame that was popular during the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. They were games that used a third-person perspective and had slightly more of an emphasis on exploration, atmosphere, storytelling and/or puzzle-solving than on combat.

Notable examples of the genre include games like “Alone In the Dark“, the first three “Resident Evil” games, the first three “Silent Hill” games and the “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” videogame series.

And, if you take artistic inspiration from them, you can make dramatic art that looks a bit like this upcoming digitally-edited painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th June.

So, what can old survival horror videogames teach us about making art?

1) Perspective and composition: One of the interesting things about survival horror games from the 1990s is that, due to technical limitations, they would often use pre-made 2D backdrops rather than actual 3D locations. What this meant was that the game’s “camera” had to remain in a fixed position in each location (since the background was actually a 2D image). Yet, this technical limitation proved to be one of the best parts of these games. But, why?

Simply put, game designers of the time had to use this limitation to their advantage. In other words, they had to use perspective and composition in interesting and dramatic ways. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 3” to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

Notice how the “camera” lurks far away from the main character, creating a sense of both impending danger and of being an insignificant part of a large uncaring world. Likewise, notice how some dramatic flames and burning pieces of wood have been placed in the close foreground, adding depth to the image and also “framing” the image slightly. All of these things were conscious creative decisions that give this moment in the game a little bit more atmosphere.

In other words, old survival horror games can teach us that both perspective and composition are integral parts of any painting or drawing. When used creatively, they can add instant visual interest and atmosphere to a piece of art.

2) Altered familiarity: If there’s one thing that made old survival horror games so eerily dramatic, it was that they would often take familiar locations and turn them into something a bit more dark and twisted. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is designed to evoke something that Sigmund Freud called “The Uncanny” and it not only adds instant atmosphere, but it also allows for a lot more visual creativity too.

In addition to the post-apocalyptic settings of “Resident Evil 3”, one of the best examples of this can be found in another horror sequel called “Silent Hill 3“. This is a game that will often take familiar locations (eg: subways, shopping centres, hospitals etc..) and turn them into something eerily terrifying. Here’s an example:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003)

In this scene from “Silent Hill 3”, an ordinary location (a subway corridor) is turned into something much creepier through the addition of things that you wouldn’t expect to see in this location. The incongruous piles of old junk not only evoke a feeling of dereliction and decay, but they also present a menacing barrier to the player too. Likewise, some faded/dried blood spatter on the wall also helps to add to this sense of menace too.

So, if there’s another thing that old survival horror games can teach artists, it is to be a bit more creative with “familiar” locations. Whether you’re trying to add a sense of ominous horror to your artwork or whether you just want to add some quirky and comedic stuff to your art, don’t be afraid to be a little bit creative with “familiar” locations.

3) The lighting: You knew I was going to mention this. But, it’s worth mentioning anyway. If there’s one visual feature that really makes old survival horror games stand out from the crowd, it is the lighting.

In order to create a dramatic atmosphere, these games were usually either set at night or in gloomy locations of one kind or another. What this meant is that the designers could use lighting creatively. Not only do the dark backgrounds make the lighting stand out even more but it also means that the lighting can be used to draw the player’s attention to particular areas of the picture. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 2”:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Resident Evil 2” (1998)

Notice how most of the foreground is shrouded in shadows, yet the stairs and the corner of the walkway are brightly lit. Not only does this add some visual interest to the picture, but the player is also quite literally being invited to “go into the light”, since the area you’re supposed to walk to (eg: the end of the walkway) is the most brightly-lit part of the picture.

So, what can we learn from this? Simply put, in addition to making sure that 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is shrouded in gloom (so that the lighting looks more vivid by contrast), it also reminds us that lighting should be used to direct the audience’s attention towards interesting or important parts of the picture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Working Out What To Show The Audience – A Ramble

Well, the day before I wrote this article, I happened to see something fascinating that made me think about something which anyone who is telling a story, making a piece of art etc… has to grapple with. Namely the decision of what to show the audience.

Anyway, the thing that made me think about this topic were a few videos from a fascinating Youtube series called “Boundary Break” where, using various tools, someone manipulates the “camera” in videogames to show you what you normally wouldn’t see whilst playing the game. And it is fascinating.

This is mostly because, in order to save memory and processing power, videogames will often only display the absolute minimum needed to make everything look convincing. For example, if a game displays a fenced-off road or passageway, the only things behind it will be what the player can actually see through gaps in the fence. After all, the emphasis is on making sure that the game looks convincing, whilst also finding sneaky ways to show the minimum amount of detail possible.

And, well, the same thing is true in almost every other creative medium too.

For example, many studio-based film and television sets will only actually contain what appears on camera (eg: the classic example being a set in a sitcom where one wall is missing in order to allow the cameras to film what is happening). Films can also take this a step further by giving the illusion of a large set through background details whilst only actually showing a few smaller locations.

The classic example of this is the 1982 film “Blade Runner“. This is a sci-fi film set within a giant futuristic mega-city. Yet, if you look closely at the film itself, the only actual locations in it that are shown in any real level of detail are several interior locations and a few streets. But, thanks to things like distant background details (created via things like paintings, scale models etc..) etc.. the audience feels like they’re seeing a much larger setting than they actually are.

Likewise, many pieces of visual art (especially in things like comics) will often focus more heavily on adding detail to more prominent parts of the picture, with the background detail often being left slightly vague or impressionistic. There are several practical reasons for this, such as time reasons and the fact that (unless you’re making a very large piece of art) it can be difficult to cram lots of detail into small background areas.

The same is true for prose fiction too. After all, if you have to describe literally every detail of a story’s setting, character backstories etc… you will end up with a very long, very slow-paced and very boring story. As such, you have to be very selective about only describing the most important, evocative and/or interesting details in each scene of your story.

For example, if you’re writing a “film noir”-style scene set inside a detective’s office, you might describe a few key details like the light filtering through the blinds, a cigarette smouldering in an ashtray and a rusty old filing cabinet. This gives the audience a quick impression of the scene, whilst avoiding the slow-paced boredom that would come from describing literally every detail of the room.

So, yes, working out what not to show is actually quite an important part of making any creative work. And the best way to learn how to do this is simply to see the thing you’re creating from your audience’s perspective. In other words, you need to think about how your audience will see the things you create, what they will find interesting and, most importantly of all, what their attention will be drawn to.

Once you know what grabs your audience’s attention, then focus most of your time, effort, words etc… on that.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Are Games Art? – A Ramble

First of all, the answer is clearly “yes!“. But, I recently happened to read some online articles about this tired old debate and felt like giving my opinions about why games are art – in addition to giving some of my thoughts about the medium in general. And, yes, today was something of an uninspired day.

Leaving aside the obvious point about how games contain visual design, music and things like that, I’d argue that games are art because of the role they play. Whilst things are often only seen as “Art” when they are placed in galleries (as if they are sacred relics of some kind), this goes against the whole point of art. Art is there to enrich everyday life. Art is there to make us imagine. Art is there to contribute to the shared cultures that we all live in.

Art is, in the best possible way, the background to all of our lives. It’s like the bass line in a rock, punk or heavy metal song. Most of the time you don’t even hear it, but if it wasn’t there, then it would probably be very noticeable. So, yes, art is something that surrounds us all.

That song in the background? That’s art. That poster on the wall? That’s art. The design on that T-shirt? That’s art. The desktop background on your computer? That’s art. I could go on, but art is something that travels alongside us as we go through life, making the world seem more interesting, allowing us to make more sense of the world and providing material for our imaginations, thoughts and daydreams.

Whether you make it and/or are a part of the audience, art is an essential part of being human. It’s why even the earliest humans painted pictures on the walls of their caves.

If, like me, you’ve grown up with games, then you’ll know that they clearly fit that description.

For example, when a cloud of dust from the Sahara turned the skies above Britain an ominous shade of grey-orange last year, my first thought was ‘Oh my god, this is just like one of the early parts of “Silent Hill 3‘. This is exactly the same sort of thing as when I’ve seen the view from the top of Portsdown Hill at night and thought ‘Cool! This looks just like the opening scene of “Blade Runner‘.

Likewise, if I’ve been playing “point and click” games for a while then, in the few minutes after I stop playing, I’ll sometimes find my thoughts filled with sarcastic descriptions of everything I see (in a similar manner to the main characters in these games) – in exactly the same way that a novel with a distinctive narrative voice will sometimes briefly shape the tone of my thoughts after I finish reading it.

If I get nostalgic about certain times in my life, then the games I was playing at the time will be a part of that nostalgia (in the same way that the music I was listening to at the time will be). I could go on, but games fill the same role as things like music, films, books etc… do. Therefore, they are art.

One of the arguments, made by the art critic Jonathan Jones in 2012, against games being art is that they don’t reflect a single artist’s vision. Or, as Jones puts it: ‘A work of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition.

However, this argument falls apart when compared to other artforms like film and theatre. Yes, one person might have written the script. But that script is interpreted by a director, and then further interpreted by the cast. There’s no one individual who has absolute control over how a film or a play turns out. Yet, not even the most old-fashioned of critics would deny that film or theatre should be considered part of “the arts”.

But, one area where games do fall down slightly is the topic of easy accessibility. In short, it’s less intuitive for beginners to dabble with game-making.

Unlike picking up a pencil and doodling, picking up a camera and taking some photos or picking up a cheap guitar and following a piece of tablature, it’s more difficult for a beginner to dabble in making games. Even though there are “game maker” programs out there, most of these either have a steep learning curve and/or severely limit what curious novice game developers can do.

I mean, I’d love to make games. But, I’m a visual artist and a writer instead for the simple reason that these artforms have a more intuitive learning curve. Likewise, the tools needed to make drawings/paintings, comics and prose fiction are cheap, open and widely available to all. So, even though I’ve dreamed of making games ever since I started playing them, I’ve gravitated towards these other artforms instead for the simple reason that they were more welcoming to beginners..

In addition to this, games are perhaps one of the only artforms where there are additional barriers to entry for the audience. If you want to watch a film and you don’t have a DVD drive, Blu-ray player, VCR, television or internet connection, there’s always the cinema. If you want to listen to music, then you just need a cheap radio, MP3 player or CD player (or you can go to a concert, or pick up an instrument, or just hum a tune). If you want to read the latest novels, then the hardback editions might cost Β£15-20 each – but they’ll probably be in libraries (if the government hasn’t under-funded them into oblivion) and/or second-hand bookshops after a while. I could go on…

Games, on the other hand, have system requirements. In order to even play a popular modern game that might cost Β£40-50, you also need a piece of technology that could cost Β£300 or much more. And it will probably become “obsolete” within 5-10 years.

Yes, there are obviously retro games and some low-spec modern indie games (eg: the games I play these days). Plus, there are mobile phones (that have games on them). Plus, there are probably a few old arcade machines (anyone remember those?) languishing in a dark corner somewhere.

But, can you imagine not being able to read a novel because you haven’t paid to upgrade to the latest version of the English language? Or not being able to see a film because your television is out-of-date etc…

Games are an artform, and they should damn well act like it! In other words, they should be open to everyone.

Yes, this might mean that games don’t have the latest ultra-realistic graphics. But, this is where the “art” comes in. If a novel can render a vividly realistic scene in the audience’s imaginations using just 26 letters, then games can get by on lo-fi graphics (that will run on even the oldest or cheapest of electronic devices). I mean, the “art” in games doesn’t come from the realism of the graphics – it comes from the story, the visual design/art style, the atmosphere and/or the experience of playing the game (eg: the gameplay).

So, yes, games are art. But, they should really take a few lessons from other artforms about being more open to both potential audience members and to those who are vaguely wishing to dabble with game-making.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Short Story: “Expo” By C. A. Brown

The thing that Ruby didn’t expect was the smell of plastic. It was almost like the new car smell that some dealerships apparently spray into cars that have been sitting in a shipping container for weeks, but it had a bit more of a toy shop ambience to it. Of course, the hint of new car smell was presumably there to remind people that videogames were not just for kids these days. Ruby tried not to laugh.

Around her, a hundred screens flashed and a thousand sound effects clamoured for attention. Unlike the news desk photos from Tokyo and Los Angeles, at least the crowds didn’t seem to be too dense here in London. And, with the press lanyard around her neck, she wondered if she’d get the first go on some of the new games. Although, of course, with bag upon bag of promotional loot in her arms, she probably just looked like any other tourist.

If she hadn’t been so heavily-laden with gaudily-labelled bags, she’d have probably checked her watch. Instead, she scanned the magnolia walls of the giant hall for a clock. There was something on the telly a couple of weeks ago about how casinos in Las Vegas never include clocks. How gamblers gamble more if they lose track of time. Still, she thought, this is a conference centre, it’ll have a clock. And it did.

To her delight, it was only five past ten. Still, it was worth starting with something in case the queues got too long later in the day. She scanned the hall for the least crowded stall. Her eyes settled on one with bright blue banners. Of course! The Playstation 2. Every gamer that was anyone had already bought an import or at least read a million magazine features about it already. Including, no doubt, a couple that she’d written.

Swinging the loot bags slightly, Ruby strode over to the stall. And, there it was! To say that seeing something that had been lying around the magazine office for the past three weeks being displayed in a glass case on a pedestal, like it was a bronze age Celtic torc, felt surreal would be an understatement. But, as a cheerful twentysomething woman in a blue T-shirt approached her, Ruby made herself smile.

Oh, you must be here for the feature.‘ She flashed Ruby a perfect grin. ‘I thought that there would be a photographer with you or something.

The team’s stuck in traffic. They said they’d be here by twelve.‘ Ruby said. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any new details about the console?

The woman in the blue T-shirt shrugged and said ‘I can’t tell you anything you probably don’t know already. You did get our press kits, right?

Although she nodded and kept smiling, Ruby seethed with jealousy as she remembered that Stevens, Grigg and Booth had won the draw for the tickets to LA. If there were going to be any major announcements, they’d happen there.

After a couple of polite goodbyes, Ruby found herself in the middle of the floor again. She thought about climbing the metal stairs and looking out over the balcony. But, without a camera, the spectacular view would just be a waste of time. Even so, she thought, it must look like a little city – with lots of little streets and avenues. Placing the bag in her left hand on the clean blue carpet, she fumbled for her lanyard.

If this was a game, she’d have just pressed a button and a map would have popped up in front of her eyes. But, she actually had to turn the shiny lanyard over and squint against the glare from the strip lights above. On the tiny map, all of the major developers seemed to be there. But her eyes were drawn to a small square in the corner marked “Over 18s Only

She couldn’t resist a grin. This would make for an interesting featurette. As she picked up the bag and began to make her way through a narrow alleyway of Sega Dreamcast game stalls, she wondered whether to go for a salaciously lurid angle or one of pious moral condemnation. Whatever she chose, the editor would probably insist on adding some immature humour to the article. Although videogames were emphatically not just for kids these days, most of the readership hadn’t got the message.

When she saw the dark canvas walls, the bright red age limit sign and the bald bouncer, another grin crossed her face. However she wrote about it, it was certainly going to be an article that people would notice. Without a flicker of emotion, the bouncer stepped aside and gestured towards the entrance. Taking a deep breath, she stepped inside.

As a loud roar filled the air, a cloud of red pixels sprayed across a video screen and a gravelly voice shouted : “The Chainsawing! The game they tried to ban! Out in June!“, Ruby felt the first twinge of disappointment.

Her eyes flitted to a nearby demo console, which showed a controversial musician standing behind the main menu and raising his middle finger at the player. On another screen, a grim-looking man in an army jacket bludgeoned a ferocious mutant creature to death with a lead pipe.

Ruby let out a groan. So much for games being not just for kids these days!

Computer Games And Creative Inspiration

Correction - for "twenty minutes", read "probably more than twenty minutes"...

Correction – for “twenty minutes”, read “probably more than twenty minutes”…

Computer and video games often get a bad press when it comes to creative work (and work in general). After all, they’re often seen as a tool of procrastination and distraction, rather than something that can help us to be more productive.

But, I’d argue that they can be one of the most overlooked sources of creative inspiration out there for a number of reasons. Here are three of those reasons:

1) Mindful distraction: Let’s face it, uninspiration can be one of the most frustrating things in the world. Whether it’s writer’s block or artist’s block, there is nothing more annoying than wanting to write something or draw something, only to find that you have no ideas whatsoever.

Of course, the more you sit there and try to think of a creative idea, the further out of reach any good ideas tend to become. Feeling frustrated about your creative work is one of the quickest ways to shut off the possibility of feeling inspired.

So, you need to distract yourself from your feelings of frustration about your writing or art for a while. But, if you’ve ever felt frustrated, then you’ll know that it isn’t something that you can just not think about. No, getting rid of creative frustration usually requires getting frustrated about something else – and this is where computer games come in.

Playing a fiendishly difficult, but fair, computer game can be a great way to redirect your feelings of frustration away from your creative work and turn them into something far more enjoyable.

Choose a game in a genre that you enjoy and crank the difficultly settings up as high as they will go (for me, this might include be playing “Left4Dead 2” on ‘expert’ difficulty, or playing “Doom” on ‘nightmare’ difficulty whilst using only the traditional keyboard-only controls), then see how far you can get. You will fail repeatedly, but you will also know that you can succeed if you use the right techniques and tactics – after all, no-one intentionally makes unwinnable games.

At the very least, this will make you frustrated about the game that you’re playing, rather than about your creative work (putting you in a slightly better frame of mind to feel inspired). But, more likely, it will either be a slightly meditative experience that will allow you to think about your creative work in a slightly more calm way or it will put you into more of a “puzzle-solving” state of mind, which can be useful for solving any creative “puzzles” that you might also be dealing with.

2) You’ll want to make one: If you play enough computer and video games, then you will eventually want to make one of your own. But if, like me, you’re almost allergic to programming and if the idea of spending months or even years on a single creative project sends shivers down your spine, then it’s likely that your ideas for computer and video games will be nothing more than idle daydreams.

However, as you’ve probably already guessed, idle daydreams can be a great source of creative inspiration. Yes, you might not be able to make a computer game – but you can take the basic idea (eg: the story, settings, characters etc…) you had for that computer game and turn it into something else, such as a short story, a comic or a piece of art. Although this isn’t always the most reliable source of inspiration, it can be a surprisingly powerful one.

For example, both the zombie-based horror comic that I posted on here late last month/early this month and the zombie-based art series I posted here a couple of weeks before that were heavily inspired by an idea for a computer game that I’d had a couple of weeks earlier. I’d been daydreaming about this game repeatedly for weeks until eventually, I thought “I’m never going to be able to make this game, so I might as well cut my losses and turn it into a few pieces of art and a comic.

Because I’d also been daydreaming about this idea for such a long time, it was really easy to turn it into other things. But, of course, you’re not going to be able to think of interesting ideas for computer games unless you’ve already played quite a few of them….

3) Modding: One of the great things about computer games is that, if a game has been around for long enough, then some of it’s players will have probably made their own modifications (or “mods”) to the game.

Most of the time, these modifications are released online, so that other players can enjoy them too. And, yes, you’d be surprised at how changing something relatively small about a game can have such an effect on the experience of playing the game as a whole.

Unfortunately, this idea of “modding” doesn’t really exist to anywhere near the same extent in other creative mediums. There are a whole host of reasons for this but, don’t worry, you can still do something similar in order to get into a more inspired frame of mind. You can write fan fiction, you can make fan art, you can make a parody of something – or, if you want to be more professional and imaginative, you can create something totally new that is inspired by the things that you love.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Four Things Writers Can Learn From Videogames

2013 Artwork Videogame Writing Sketch

Well, I started re-playing the original Playstation version of “Silent Hill” recently. Somewhere between consulting a walkthrough guide for the fifth time and realising that “Silent Hill” is about ten times more disturbing than I remembered it being (when I played it about as many years ago), I started to think about the subject of storytelling in videogames.

But, since I don’t really have any proper experience with making games, I started to think about what videogames could teach us about writing prose fiction.

1) Think visually: For starters, although storytelling isn’t always a priority in video games (since it should usually take second place to gameplay), videogames are obviously a much more visual storytelling medium than prose fiction is. Yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to telling stories in visual and in written mediums, but even if your story isn’t illustrated, then it is very important to think visually when you are writing.

Yes, your readers will probably imagine the characters and the settings in a slightly different way to how you do when you’re writing your story but it is still extremely important to have at least a vague impression of what your characters and settings look like.

Thinking visually can obviously be useful when you’re writing descriptions, but it is also important because it helps you to immerse yourself in the world of your story. Although doing this too much can sometimes make you forget to write proper descriptions if you’re not careful, it is a brilliant way to stay enthusiastic about your story.

2) Implications and hidden stories: This is similar to both the previous point on this list and the classic “show, don’t tell” rule about writing. In a game, there usually isn’t space for long backstories and long passages of text. If someone who is making a game wants to give the story a sense of atmosphere and a rich backstory, then they usually have to do this through implication using the surroundings, optional background details or the appearance of characters. Although you are writing prose fiction rather than making a game, this technique can be an incredibly useful one to use in your stories.

For example: Say you were writing a story where your protagonist visits a small rural town where there had been a devastating forest fire ten years earlier. Your protagonist doesn’t know about this, although it could explain the mysterious disappearance of someone or something she is searching for.

Now, you could show your protagonist reading archive copies of the local newspaper or having long conversations with residents of the town about the fire, but a much quicker and more dramatic way of getting some of this information across would be just to briefly show a burnt-out and abandoned cabin in the forests surrounding the town.

Yes, you’d probably have to back it up with a bit of an explanation later – but the implication is that it is one of the few things which hasn’t re-grown or been repaired after a fire of some kind.

Learning how to hint at both important and secondary parts of the plot through small details and descriptions is a slightly difficult skill to pick up, but it’s one that is definitely worth learning if you want to give your story a sense of depth and atmosphere.

3) Functional dialogue:
Like with films, TV shows and comics, every single word of dialogue in a videogame has to serve some function or other (usually advancing the story, characterisation or conveying vital information to the player).

In some games, especially older games, there isn’t room for a huge amount of dialogue. Not to mention that, except in adventure games and role-playing games, too much dialogue can slow the plot down and make the player feel bored or frustrated.

Because of all of this, dialogue in games can be slightly on the “functional” side. As I mentioned in my article about writing dialogue, if you’re still learning how to write good dialogue (like I am), then it can be very useful to focus on writing “functional” dialogue until you feel more confident. Yes, it might sound slightly “wooden”, but your readers will probably appreciate it a lot more than lots of rambling and badly-written dialogue which does very little to keep the story moving.

Plus, if you’re fairly experienced at writing dialogue, then playing the occasional videogame can be a good reminder about the importance of writing concise and plot-relevant dialogue too.

4) Innovative settings: Ok, think about an interesting videogame (or computer game) you’ve played. Chances are, one of the reasons that this game was so memorable was because of the interesting and innovative settings which the game took place in. This is an especially important thing in game design because there are already quite a few clichΓ©s and well-used settings (eg: I’ve lost count of the number of 2D and 3D platform games which contain ice-based and lava-based levels) which lazy designers might reach for if they can’t think of any innovative ideas.

Since prose fiction isn’t a visual method of storytelling, then this isn’t as much of an issue. However, it can be a useful way to show both the importance of avoiding “stock” settings (eg: settings which turn up in a lot of stories) and the importance of coming up with imaginative settings that have lots of interesting details and are far more memorable.

For example, out of these two descriptions, which one is the most memorable?

1) “Barry stepped into the dining room of the old mansion, there was a large table running along the length of the room and the glowing embers of a fireplace at the far end of the room. Old portraits glowered down at him from the walls and the only sound he could hear was the sombre ticking of an old grandfather clock.”

2) “The rusty door was flanked by two swaying piles of obsolete computers. As David walked further into the room and fumbled with his lighter, he heard something crunch loudly under his foot. Clicking his lighter faster, he managed to coax a thin flame out of it. In the flickering amber light, he was able to make out the shattered edges of a faded green circuit board on the rough concrete next to his shoes. Moving the lighter up again, he found himself face to face with another circuit board. In fact, the wall in front of him seemed to be made out of nothing but old circuit boards.”

Apart from the fact that the first example is also an example of badly-written “Resident Evil” fan fiction, the second example is a probably lot more memorable because, although you’ve probably seen lots of old mansions in horror movies, horror novels and horror games, you probably haven’t seen that many settings like the one in the second description.

So, remember, keep youir settings interesting and innovative. Yes, it’s a lot harder than it sounds, but it can be essential for memorable stories.

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Anyway, I hope this article was useful πŸ™‚